An Associated Press report claims Military officials in Iraq are investigating allegations that an Army specialist is being harassed for being an atheist but said Saturday that they cannot find an officer the soldier has named in a federal lawsuit.
Spc. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against Maj. Paul Welborne and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. It alleges that Welborne threatened to pursue military charges against Hall and to block his reenlistment because he was trying to hold a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.
The suit also alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs and sanctions activities by Christian organisations, including providing personnel and equipment. It also says the military permits proselytising by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism, placing of religious symbols on military equipment and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.
Hall has also alleged that he had been harassed and threatened on blogs with being killed by friendly fire for filing the lawsuit. Some postings on military-related blogs have been critical of Hall, with some people wondering how atheists can claim religious freedom if they practice no sanctioned faith. One individual, posting under the name “Hidog,” suggested Hall put on an orange vest and carry a sign “Bong hits 4 Allah” through the streets of Iraq, “because apparently, your Bill of Rights trump your CO’s (commanding officer’s) orders.”
But others said the U.S. Constitution protects “freedom from religion,” and defended Hall, adding that they were glad he spoke up against the pressures from some Christians.